The Smartest Dog in the Whole Wide World

Mom, thinking 2

photo by Susan Kauffmann

I didn’t have a dog as a kid. I settled for an aquarium of fish, and some feral kittens which were not allowed in the house. Now that I’ve been a mother, I understand my mom’s reluctance — she raised five of us. I had no idea how to take care of or train a dog, so I didn’t add one to my own busy household.

However, daughter Susan never met a creature she didn’t adore.


I settled for tropical fish

After rain, she’d pick up worms from the sidewalk and gently place them on the parkway,  concerned the cement would hurt their little pink bellies.

I have Susan to thank for many pleasures, but especially for having had the privilege of living with Buttons, the smartest dog in the whole wide world. I suspect Susan went to school each day with some cheese squirreled away in her pocket. The dog Buttons wandered freely about our neighborhood.

The love affair between Susan and Buttons blossomed quickly. I began finding Buttons at home when I got in from work. Sometimes, I’d meet her at our front door. She’d give me a polite little hello, the door would open, and in she’d march as if she owned the place. Still, she wasn’t our dog.


Old photo of Susan showing Buttons another little friend

One morning I found Buttons happily asleep with Susan. It was time for a family conference. We discussed the situation and decided we were willing to buy the dog for no more than $100 — if her owners would sell. A leash turned up from I know not where, we attached it to Buttons’ collar and off we went. Susan knew where Buttons lived, but we had to drag the poor thing up the walkway.

The mother of two boys invited us in. She said she was going through a divorce and was aware her sons were not being kind to Buttons. When she opened her front door, she knew exactly where Buttons ran to. She didn’t want any money. She was relieved Buttons would be well loved and cared for. We were a happy troupe going home, including Buttons.

Buttons, realizing I needed to be trained to take care of her, embarked on educating


I’d had feral kittens, but I knew nothing about dogs

me. She was meticulous, taught me where she wanted to conduct her toilette (never on our property), what and when (always) she wanted to eat and how much she enjoyed a little peanut butter.

My Parisian in-laws insisted Buttons understood French. On visits, while I was at work, they delighted in her. They’d ask her (in French — they spoke no English) if she wanted a walk. She’d respond by going to the door, tail wagging. They’d ask her, again in French, to speak, which she did, just as she would in English. We made tapes to send them in Paris, so they could listen as often as they liked. Of course, Buttons always said hello. They’d play the tapes for their neighbors — Buttons was the star of the show.


AJ the beautiful and Rafi

I’d hold Buttons close, tell her she wasn’t gorgeous but I loved her and she’d happily lick my face in return for the non-compliment. Although when she was groomed and had pretty ribbons in her hair, she pranced around and was, indeed, a beauty. She was the cleverest dog I ever had. Yes, there were others. AJ was prettier, but Buttons at half his size, was the boss. She’d jump up and nip him on the nose if he was out of line.

Buttons WAS definitely brilliant. She CHOSE her family. She DECIDED to move in. She TRAINED us. She also gave us loads of love which we returned with pleasure.


10 thoughts on “The Smartest Dog in the Whole Wide World

  1. You didn’t talk about how Buttons would show her displeasure when I went away to summer camp: This dog — always meticulous about where she did her “business” (as you said, not on our property) — would go under the largest bed in the house, and make a “deposit” right in the center, where it would be most difficult to reach. That shows an enormous amount of intelligence and emotion, though I’m sure it was not at all fun for you to clean up, mom! Then there was the fact that Buttons had the neighbors well-trained — not just us. She had them buying dog biscuits to give her whenever she would stop by to visit…and they didn’t even own a dog! And of course, there were her forays over to the nearby McDonald’s, after which she would come home with a “doggy bag” full of goodies…we never did figure out exactly how that happened. She would wait until she was home, then plop down on the front lawn, open her bag, and enjoy fine dining al fresco. And god forbid you take her bag away! I have never seen a look of such disdain and hatred in the eyes of another living creature, man nor beast. Lastly, you forgot that Bubby and Zady would also speak to her in Yiddish, which she understood perfectly well, as she did French and English. Indeed a very smart and wonderful doggy! : )

  2. Buttons was an amazing dog. It seems she had a human soul. I can relate to your love of Buttons. I can visualize her responding to a my question in Spanish: como estas Buttons. After all she understood French, English, Yiddish. And probably Spanish too. Our dalmation understood several languages….even Hebrew. My daughter, Susan, speaks fluently in English, Spanish, French, Yiddish and Hebrew. The Dalmation’s name will give you an idea of her personality: “YENTYL”. Great blog. Cordially, Joe Tresser

  3. Your best friend reminds me of my “babysitter”, who never left my side, when I was young and on my own, while my parents worked on the ranch in, Vista, CA. He also trapped possum up trees, and barked at rattlers, keeping them curled up and striking, until our neighbor came to shoot his meal. He knew by the bark, what Laddie had for him. He wanted to buy him, but he wasn’t for sale.
    I also knew another dog in LA, who only understood, Esperanto. Wouldn’t listen to me at all.
    I lived in the country, so our dogs were all gifts from city folk. We even had a
    cousin of “Lassie Come Home”. A male, so they couldn’t use him in the movies, but he was gorgeous.

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